- Words Miki Hellerbach
- Photography George Hodson
- Production Studio Notion
- Photography Assistant Mollie Packer
As they release their second album ‘Balance’, Children of Zeus speak with Notion about finding the perfect equilibrium for their sound, life, and outlook.
If you’re the Manchester R&B/Rap duo Children of Zeus, to say your career trajectory has been choppy is an understatement. Both Konny and Tyler made solo music, and music with other crews before happening to meet at a show in France. They linked up and realized they were from the same area, then connected immediately on what I’d say seems to have been a sonically spiritual level. They made an album ‘Travel Light’, which propelled them both to a different tier of the music industry they’d both almost given up on reaching. They toured the world and felt that bountiful joy, but also realized on some level the rushed pace and constant forced socializing did not match their natural temperaments. They felt conflicted, but were also rearing to catapult into making their next album then boom! The world shut down. Most artists on that revved-up trajectory don’t receive this intense of a readjustment. While the income got shaky, simultaneously the guys got to sit with one another on opposing sides of the seesaw away from the madness. It was through this, that Children of Zeus were able to bring the balance back to the craft they fell in love with. The result is their second album, ‘Balance’, which Konny says, “Isn’t the greatest title, but there’s no other name that is more fitting.”
Children of Zeus shoot lightning bolts of sonic nostalgia and freshness that are as natural to their taste and artistic character as the electricity that fires out of the Greek God’s palms. While their music makes you feel a deja vu-like sensation, it also holds to something that couldn’t be done without a modern perspective. Tyler’s grainy yet warm melodies interspersed with Konny’s at times melancholy philosophical raps over lush yet minimalistic instrumentals is simply put, life music. It can be played on car speakers with the windows down, in your headphones right before bed, or at a waved-out dance party with equal effectiveness. The boys found the space to execute it at its most essential level whilst society was separated. ‘Balance’ allows us to hear their quandaries and somehow settle our own. I spoke with the guys for around an hour about everything they’ve learned in this passage of time and how it translated onto the record. On the cusp of their second round of shows coming out of the pandemic, they spoke on the balance needed for that and everything else.
You did a few shows at the end of 2020 – how did those go and are you looking forward to these new ones coming up?
Konny: The ones we did in October were quite strange. A bit dystopian to have people wanna dance and stand up then be told to sit down. The music had to stop and people were freaking out. It was pretty insane. This time around, me and Tyler are probably a bit more used to it than everyone else because we did maybe six shows. The London one we did was really good even for a seated gig. Luckily for us, our music translates quite well for that. Whereas, I suppose if you made Drum and Bass or Rap that’s a bit more uptempo, it wouldn’t suit it as well. I’m looking forward to Wednesday. Of course, I can’t wait for it to be back to normal where it’s a full capacity standing crowd but we’re quite lucky we get the chance to still perform.
Did you learn any tactics of how to handle these types of shows better?
Tyler: We got a chance to perform a few songs that maybe we wouldn’t do usually. More chilled stuff. It’s just a different setting where you don’t have to worry about making people dance. A little bit more of an intimate vibe.
Due to your group name, are y’all into Greek mythology at all?
Konny: We’ve always waited to be quizzed about it then fail really badly because neither of us know anything. We’ve always said we should learn a bit more about this because we’re gonna get asked, but no one ever did. I did learn basic stuff from watching all the 60s epics, Jason and The Argonauts and those types of films, but that’s about it really.
Tyler: My neighbors are Greek. They actually don’t know anything about it either. When we were first thinking of the name, Jason and The Argonauts was the era of films we were both connecting on. That’s how we saw the fonts and stuff like that.
For each of you, who’s your favorite R&B group of all time? Then who’s your favorite Hip Hop duo?
Tyler: I can tell you who Konny’s favorite R&B group is of all time. I don’t know if he can tell you who mine is though. I know his is Jodeci. You should know who mine is (Konny).
Konny: (Yours is) SWV. I was gonna go SWV or Jodeci.
Tyler: They’re the two dons out there, let’s be honest.
Konny: My favorite (Rap) duo is probably Mobb Deep.
Tyler: Can’t really argue with that. I don’t know if you can class this, but also Ghostface and Raekwon. They’ll give it a run.
When you create do either of you try to tap into nostalgia intentionally or is it all organic?
Tyler: We’re just old, man.
Konny: If anything, I’d say the norm is to do what we know. Then maybe do something that isn’t nostalgic to add into that. So if it is nostalgic it’s just cuz it’s what we grew up on. We more go, “How do we not make the music that we know?”
Tyler: More trying to advance the stuff we already love. Re-do it all from scratch, take what we know, and add stuff we like from what’s going on now or what ain’t goin’ on yet.
Can you break down for me the pirate radio stations you both used to listen to in your youth? How they worked and what you heard?
Konny: Pirate radio, back in the days of FM radio, (existed because) for us in Manchester there wasn’t a whole heap of places to listen to Hip Hop, Soul, and Reggae. It wasn’t on legal broadcasting stations. Some of them would be on constantly, some when they chose to be. Then some were taken down by DTI (Department of Trade and Industry). They’d get raided and all their records taken. It was a risky business as an illegal alternative to mainstream radio. For us, who didn’t have access to satellite tv or MTV, we had pirate radio. It played a bit of everything within the black music world. American music, but also UK Music which was Street Soul, Reggae, Jungle, and Hip Hop. At any time, there was a maximum of about three in Manchester. Without knowing each other, me and Tyler both probably listened to the same shows and music. Sat there with our tape cassettes recording.
Tyler: It was very ghetto as well. You could be listening to the station then it could just go off out of nowhere. But anything that wasn’t mainstream, like Konny said. The counterculture of Black music, that was the only place we got it from. Even though it was illegal there was a hell of a lot of people listening to it. So the powers that be shut them down. Those guys paved the way for people like us. We would’ve never had the music we had if it wasn’t for them.
Prior to collaborating, was the music you made different than it is now?
Tyler: It wasn’t a million miles away from what we’re doing now. Just artists trying to find their feet. On my side, I came through at a time before everyone was so independent and the internet was really doing its thing. I went through a lot of trying to please A&R’s for a long time. But by the time I met up with Konny in France, I’d just kind of come out of that and I was making my take on Hip Hop. Heavily influenced by the US, but tryna put that Manchester angle on it.
Konny: Yeah we were just making Hip Hop. Then, when me and Tyler connected we were still making Hip-Hop, but with the plan to have Tyler singing a couple of hooks. When we talked about pirate radio it made us realize both of us were into a much more soulful thing as well. We explored that a little bit and it ended up where it is now.
I’ve also heard you say your impetus for crafting this sound came from it not existing in a modern way from your area. Now that there are other artists in your realm, how has the drive shifted?
Tyler: With us, we’ve always listened to soul music whether it was cool or not. The landscape of what’s commercially accepted changes all the time. When a lot of people felt they had to go a certain direction, and we also felt that pressure at times trying to make Children of Zeus serious, we decided to forget the current wave cuz that comes and goes and just stick to what we’ve consistently loved all the way through. It wasn’t us sayin’, “We’re not gonna do that.” It was more, “What’s the point of tryin’ to do something that isn’t really us?” We’ll ultimately end up hating it anyway.
How do you compliment each other best in your process and execution?
Konny: I think you go back to the “b word” – balance. I realized yesterday going through new music that people don’t wanna work anymore in groups. Everyone’s a solo artist these days. The final decision on people’s music is just theirs. Whereas with us, with everything you hear both of us have gone, “I like that.” If we both made solo music it would’ve been different because there wouldn’t be that middle ground. There’d be no one to second guess it. It’s the balance of the rough with the smooth. Me rapping on my own without Tyler, no one’s gonna care. That’s the truth of it. Me rapping without the singing only has a certain height it can reach. Tyler’s singing before what I brought to it, only got as far as it did before we joined together. I don’t think there’s a lot of people out there doing this and that’s what makes it unique.
Tyler: I personally think it’s more about us as people than it is about the music. I don’t think it’s necessarily about how we complement each other like say Jodeci’s harmonies might musically. I think as people we have a very similar understanding of music. The combination of things we like, don’t like, and kind of clash on is all for a reason. It’s hard to define how we do what we do. There’s no formula. It’s just literally anything can happen. The things we do in and away from the studio, all compliments. Everything just hit at the right time.
This is a good transition to talk about the new album, ‘Balance’. Did your drive to achieve your best rapping/singing balance influence the concept?
Konny: I think before this album it was something that came up constantly. The album title isn’t the greatest title, but there’s no other name that is more fitting. It comes up so often in our conversations, music, and life. Trying to find the balance of how much to do one thing or another; whether it’s rapping, singing, trying to stay up to date, or doing the nostalgic thing like you said. Everything has to meet somewhere in the middle or it just doesn’t work.
So that’s the sonic side. Throughout the project, it also seems like a psychological and emotional concept. Is it, in that way, also an extension of your first project ‘Travel Light’?
Tyler: Yeah, naturally. Not that we sat down and said, “This is a continuation as far as titles go,” but ‘Travel Light’ was about us shedding a lot of dead weight and stuff we didn’t have to carry around. ‘Balance’ is another level of us growing and maturing. I’m a Dad myself, so balancing that out. We’ve got balancing our mental states and obviously this whole year you’ve seen people go at each other. Either far left or far right or whatever the case may be. There’s a lot of imbalance going on. We’re just getting in that more mature space. The older you get you realise how much balance really plays a part. A result of natural progression.
There’s a resounding sung cry at the top of the album Tyler when you sing, “I can’t find no balance I’m falling.” What experience made you want to start the album with expressing that feeling of losing it?
Tyler: I think hardship in general. We can all do a bit too much of one thing, be it addiction, be it partying too much, or even the other way, stayin’ in too much. I’ve definitely felt imbalance in my life many times in many different scenarios. When I’m singing or we write that stuff down it’s from somewhere, but not necessarily specifically.
So “No Love Song” is about R&B expectations. Who puts those pressures on you?
Tyler: I don’t think we necessarily feel the pressure, but after making one album and everyone saying they love something like “Hard Work,” sometimes they expect you to do what you’ve already done. It’s not necessarily saying, “We don’t wanna make no love songs.” It’s just a dig at anything in general where you’re expected to come up with the goods in a specific way rather than just going with how you feel.
Konny: There’s two parts to that title. The overall thing is a lot of the time we hear, “Children of Zeus are conscious Hip Hop.” I don’t know what the other end of that is…unconscious? They say we’re in the vein of someone like Slum Village, but they definitely didn’t listen to the lyrics about them going to the strip club and drinking.
Tyler: We don’t do that by the way.
Konny: We don’t, but the thing is I don’t wanna put myself under the bracket of conscious Hip Hop. There’s conscious elements to it but, without being cliché, there’s a balance to it. We just make whatever music we feel at the time. The other part of it is, when we actually wrote that we were just tryin’ to write a song that day. If you listen to the album most of the lyrics are pretty dark and Tyler was trying to persuade me (over the phone) not to write so much dark stuff. He was like, “I don’t wanna project all this darkness.” At the time, this time last year, I couldn’t write anything else. I said to Tyler, “I’m really struggling,” cuz when Tyler would bring something that was a happy song I would be lying to write my happiness. So we had this one beat and I said, “I’m gonna try to write something then give ya a shout back.” Then within ten minutes he rang me back and said he’d written to this other song which was “No Love Song” and I was like, “Bro you’ve literally written how I feel.”
Tyler: We had that chat before for about two hours and that song lasted about ten minutes. I was inspired by the conversation.
Konny: If we wrote it right now it’d be a very different album, but it’s true to the time it was made.
For the next track “I Know,” funny enough you go into a more romantic space. Was that sequence intentional theme-wise?
Konny: The only intention was when we came to sorting out the tracklist. Musically that one worked and we couldn’t find anything else that fit there. We were like, “This doesn’t make any sense putting this after this lyrically,” then we realized the album’s called Balance so it’s perfectly fine to have a song about not wanting to write about love, to writing about love. All these things happen in people’s lives. It’s not so black and white or straightforward. People are complex. So at that point, it doesn’t matter what goes where. It’s all part of the balance of who we are.
Can we talk about the bounce in the production of that song? It really hooked into some nostalgia for me.
Tyler: That’s funny cuz the nostalgia for me comes from the R&B side of it vocally. But beat-wise I was really inspired by a lot of Drill kind of stuff which might sound a bit crazy. These young London kids, I was inspired by their patterns. Not that I tried to make anything like that, but there’s a percussion that goes in the background that’s kind of connecting that old with the new. There is no real method behind it, just threw a few things at the wall.
Konny, one of my favorite lyrics of the album is from your verse on “Be Someone” when you rap, “Is rejection really redirection?” Do you think it is?
Konny: It was more of a question than me knowing what it is. I don’t know the answer. The cliché is rejection is really just opening another door, but I don’t know if it is, man. I think too much rejection probably closes all your doors. For a lot of people, if you get rejected enough times you probably give up trying to find a door to open.
Tyler: Maybe it depends on how you take the rejection as well. If you asked me at the time I got rejected I’d have definitely said no, but ask me ten years later when I’ve got over it and done some other shit.
Konny: I don’t know the answer. It was a question!
Tyler: You should’ve put something in the back of the album like a little form where you can get some answers.
Konny: ‘Travel Light’ was a whole album of feeling rejected. The rejection made an album I’m happy with that a lot of people related to. The rejection of us trying to find our way for however many years, this is the result of it. It worked for that, but maybe the answer doesn’t apply across the board for every type of rejection. But I guess in my experience, rejection is redirection.
For “Nice & Sweet,” can you talk about that craving of self-destructive desire?
Tyler: Sonically, Konny was behind the initial idea. He came to me with the basics of it there. For me, as a writer, it felt bittersweet. That was the weird feeling it gave me. “Nice and Sweet” actually isn’t about love. It’s about consumption. That’s why it’s, “Mixing sugar with the poison.” So it’s basically about killing (yourself) slowly with the foods that we enjoy and the way it’s pushed to make us feel like we want it but we don’t need it. It’s mainly about health. I’m still on my journey.
So I’m a sucker for a sung question lyric, especially in a hook. For “Love Again,” Tyler you sing, “Will I ever fall in love again?” What circumstance inspired that?
Konny: I’m gonna ask you a question. What do you think the song’s about?
Desperation and despair after a harsh breakup it feels like to me.
Konny: It is. But also for the very last line of Tyler’s verse…
(“If they really heard the words, the truth within the song. They’d realize we were speakin’ on music all along.”)
Tyler: Basically if you listen closely you realize we were speaking on music. It’s about falling out of love with music and trying to fall in love again like the first time you fell in love with it. The first thing I fell in love with was Hip Hop and then there’s been times I’ve fallen out. I can truly say I’m back in love with music, but I don’t think it’ll ever compare to the first time.
Konny: If you re-listen to everything on that song, (you can) apply it knowing it’s not about a person, it’s about me and Tyler creating music as Children of Zeus. The whole song is about when we first started making music, just writing lyrics for the sake of it and freestyling with friends. None of that happens anymore. There’s no just fun in it, it’s for a purpose. Although we do have fun and have seen some nice places, the innocent part of what happened when I was a teenager isn’t there anymore.
Tyler: It’s gone forever more than likely. You can’t be in the studio as long as we have and still have that same excitement.
Konny: All the lyrics sound like they’re about a person, but every single lyric is about either the music we grew up on, or mine and Tyler’s relationship or process of making music.
Tyler: It is true love that we’re talking about. The love that we feel for music is real and when we refer to the selfishness of the other party, music doesn’t feel or have feelings. It is a one-sided relationship. It can come across like a bad breakup, cuz that’s what it is in a way.
Well, I guess I’m the one with all the R&B expectations that you’re breaking. On ‘Soulection’ I heard y’all say a group of legendary Hip Hop producers you’d like to lock in with. Have any panned out?
Konny: I got told the other day that Alchemist really likes “No Love Song.”
Tyler: That’s enough for me to be fair. If we never made music with them guys it wouldn’t be the end of the world. They are just people we love and respect and if we ever got a chance to sit in the studio with them that’d be icing on the cake for us.
Well, you do have a song with one of my favorite producers Black Milk in “Won’t End Well.” How was it crafting with him?
Konny: Ehm…I don’t know really because that was one of these things that was a big learning moment for us. Working with people over the internet when there’s no vibes or connections doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth. Not that I have a bad taste in my mouth, I’ve got nothing but love and respect…
Tyler: I love the song as well…
Konny: Yeah! We love the song!
Tyler: But it doesn’t feel like we made a song with Black Milk. That’s what it is.
Konny: Before we put out our first single we had a song with Pete Rock. It was exactly the same position where we’d never actually met him. We decided not to put it out because we knew we’d get a question like this and either have to lie about it or give the truthful answer which is, we didn’t work with Pete Rock and he probably doesn’t even know we exist. So with Black Milk, I’m pretty sure he likes it and our music, but I’ve got no relation to him. It just feels like a sterile way of making music. Since then we’ve decided making music like that doesn’t work for us. With music, it’s so easy for it to be a science project and that’s cool. But for us, we need to vibe with you. People say, “Why don’t you work with so and so? Why do you just work with John from down the road?” Because John from down the road comes to our studio all the time. For us personally, it ends up being a better result. Not just musically, but in my soul, it feels better.
I heard y’all say back in 2019 that selling Soul Music and Hip-Hop from Manchester to London and America wasn’t easy. Do you think that’s flipped since then?
Tyler: I kinda do. I think everything’s flipped. The preconceived idea has flipped. There’s been so many rules that’ve been set in place over time for no good reason really. The internet and people having access to stuff just prove everything wrong. It’s plenty of Manchester raps that do well all around the world. I think that’d always have been the case if they’d have always gotten the shine. There were even some big successes from Manchester in Hip Hop back in the day. It’s just people didn’t really wanna take that chance. Now it’s not really about taking chances. It’s just about kids uploading the music and whoever gravitated to it gravitates. There’ll still be some people that don’t get it, but as far as people hearing different voices and accents I think people are a lot more accepting.
Konny: A million percent agree with Tyler. There’s still gonna be some kick-back with people who are a bit more ignorant. People in London who don’t wanna hear Northern accents. People in the states who are not used to hearing UK accents. The same goes for us, we’re going to have our own music we make in this country like UK Drill or Grime…
Tyler: We hate it when Drake raps in the accent. That is just so annoying.
Konny: Yeah! I get why people have kick-back, but in my eyes, I see that we’ve been accepted in those places by enough people that I can’t say we’ve been blocked.
Konny, I wanted to also ask about the NTS radio you do. Do you get a different fulfillment from doing that which you don’t get from making music and performing?
Konny: I think the main thing I get from it is it keeps me on my toes for finding new music. It’s so easy to give up and just go on the stuff I grew up on. Whereas I constantly listen to everything whether I like it or not. I spend a lot of time just looking for new music. More than anyone hearing the show, it’s good for me to keep an ear on what’s new and where things are going which I bring back to what we do. I also approach it like how I used to listen to the pirate radio stations. I do it in a 2021 kind of way.
What feeling did you want to leave the listener with on ‘Balance’?
Tyler: Mine changed because at first, I wanted it to be a bit more fun, to be honest. We started the album before lockdown. Obviously, we’d done ‘Travel Light’ which I felt was dealing with a lot of stuff over the years. I feel like we got a lot off our chest with it. Then when it came to ‘Balance’, the title could’ve stayed the same, but I wanted it to be a bit more upbeat and fun in general. The lockdown changed all of that. It changed the mood of how we were feeling. By the end of it I just want people to have some kind of solace and resolve from this year and the whole experience. Something that gives you something else to reflect on rather than just this whole year of madness. Just to be like, “After a year of that, this was nice to listen to.”
Konny: I think more than what people take away I hope sonically that people really like it as a listening experience. As we sat with it we struggled to choose singles. In an ideal world, this would all be in a SoundCloud link with no gaps. But lyrically, I’d like them to take away a bit more about what’s said on the intro and outro about voices being really extreme and the middle ground not having much of a voice. I’d like them to find what’s in the middle ground. Realize we’ve got a lot more in common and listen to what the other side has to say. Be a bit more tolerant.
How have you grown most as artists and as people between ‘Travel Light’ and ‘Balance’?
Tyler: I’ve had a lot of realizations over this time. On ‘Travel Light’ we had no expectations. We just put out an album. Since then we’ve been around the world. Literally the opposite side of the world to Australia and had one of the biggest crowds and achieved a lot of milestones I thought I might never get to. Managing to do that has put a lot at rest in my mind. This might sound cliché, but I’ve been able to find more balance in my life as a result. As an artist, I always just aim to like myself more than I liked myself yesterday. That’s the way I always will work. The day that I don’t is the day I think I just need to hang the microphone up.
Konny: As an artist, I definitely think I’ve gotten better since the last album. A bit more confidence. I’m probably a bit more laid back. I don’t think laid back means less hungry but I feel like (I have) less to prove. You can listen to the early stuff and hear the difference in how I attacked. It was the opposite end of where I am now. On the other side, the difference just after ‘Travel Light’ was there were so many things me and Tyler realized we dislike about making music and selling music. It came to the point we didn’t want to do anything. We are pretty introverted, don’t enjoy having our face on camera, don’t like doing videos, and don’t like talking to people. We hate the awkward after-show conversation with strangers who all want to take a little piece of your soul. You leave feeling sweaty and clammy. But what happened over the last year when we had everything taken away from us, we realized one day when everything is over we’re gonna miss all the things we hate about it. I’m gonna wish someone wanted to talk to me after a show or inbox me Instagram videos of them crying. Within the last year, I realized I’m gonna have to compromise a bit and do some of these things I hate doing to keep this going as long as I can. Making music solely alone without all the extra bits would probably just be something only me and Tyler would hear. I’ve got to embrace the things I don’t like cuz they won’t be here forever.